Been meaning to link this soldier's critique of war coverage in Iraq, not just because it gets the message out about what's going on over there, but also because with its very existence it tells us even more about what is going on.
The first indications that something was going seriously wrong in Vietnam started to be noticed about two years into our "advisory" role in that conflict. Around 1963 young reporters like Niel Sheehan and David Halberstam started getting interviews from battlefield commanders like then-Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann that directly contradicted the far rosier accounts coming from Saigon and being reported without question in the mainstream media. In the days before e-mail, blogs, and other "alternative" news sources, it was comparatively easy to mute these dissonant voices, and so poor leadership, poor tactics, and misguided policies were allow to continue for years.
Fast forward four decades. Technology has made it possible for even the lowliest grunt to "get the word out" about what is going on literally minutes after it happens. Like printing presses in centuries past, this technology means higher authorities aren't able to shut down these alternative views. They come too fast, and from too many places.
So, with this technology, what are we hearing two years into this conflict? From reporters trapped in the green zone, trying not to repeat the mistakes of their all-too-approving editorial ancestors and unable to see the manipulation they're being subjected to, we get utter and complete negativity. From soldiers on the front lines, who actually see what's going on, who fight, bleed, and die for this cause, we get... cautious optimism. Profound disappointment that their own message doesn't seem to be "getting out". Even approval of how the leadership is carrying on the broader strategies of the war.
The polar opposites of then and now are striking. Before, mainstream media blared nothing but over-positive and under-critical reports; soldiers unable to be heard any other way leaked stories of what was actually happening that when reported threatened the careers of everyone involved, and were simply not believed. Today, that same media provides an uncritical megaphone to any voice that says we are failing, while success is relegated to obscure journals and small websites, barely to be heard at all.
It is conventional wisdom amongst those "in the know" that after Tet in 1968 the only thing standing in the way of US victory in Vietnam was the (now completely converted) mainstream media. Were it not for their now unrelenting negativity, the thinking goes, Vietnam would be a free-market democracy. Yet many of the same people who "know" about Vietnam, because of what that very same media is telling them now, also "know" we are failing in Iraq, and any story or opinion to the contrary is treated with suspicion if not outright contempt.
I have no certainty about what's going on over there. I've read a dozen books about the middle east, perhaps half again that many about Vietnam, the accounts in my local papers and the stories of soldiers and Iraqis on their blogs, and I have no certainty. I do, however, have hope for success.